Last week on a gloomy Tuesday, I sat down at my desk, signed on to Zoom, and met with a long term client to discuss her recent triumphs and failures in the kitchen. As with everything in life, there are usually a handful of both. I was so excited for her as she described the chicken dinner she cooked that past Sunday- and how the bird was perfectly done (on time!), moist, and falling off the bone. I could hear in her voice how proud of herself she was, but she diminished her experience, saying it was silly to get such a buzz off of a simple roasted chicken.
In my opinion, I think it is absolutely necessary to celebrate cooking victories- no matter the size. WildFit can often require mostly home cooking, and for those to whom cooking and baking never seemed to come naturally- the whole concept seems overwhelming. We find our motivation to continue when we see progress, so be sure to give yourself credit when you learn something new and all goes to plan.
If you are hoping to also have a successful chicken or turkey this Thanksgiving- but have had a couple experiences with unevenly cooked, burnt or dry birds- I hope the following advice will give you the confidence and skills to triumph too!
If you are going to eat a bird, choose one from a local farm. Turkeys that are bred for Thanksgiving and Christmas in large scale operations have been shown to have horrible lives leading up to traumatic deaths. They’re fed grain with growth hormones and are genetically manipulated to grow far larger than they are meant to, which cannot have great effects on your body either. A pasture-raised turkey from a small, local, sustainable farmer are more likely to have had a good life, fed better food, foraged for grass and bugs and therefore have more nutritious meat. Plus, there is a great story to be had in picking it up at the market, supporting local, and knowing you are not contributing to the exploitation of and cruelty towards these animals. Besides, when you buy a local, organic turkey you get more meat per pound- instead of lots of injected water, hydrogenated oils, emulsifiers and other chemicals- you get what you pay for.
Pastured birds are significantly juicier and more flavorful than factory farmed birds- so you won’t need to brine or baste. However, if you would like some insurance, you can always use a simple 24 hour marinade (check out the one below) to help further flavour and moisten the meat. However you can save yourself the time and energy of continually opening the oven door to baste as a thank you for making a sustainable choice. If you don’t marinade, to season a bird I will usually just rub the skin liberally with oil, salt, and pepper before allowing it to come to room temperature for an hour. This allows time for the oil and salt to saturate the skin, meaning you won’t need foil to keep the moisture in. I will then separate the skin from the meat in a couple places and pour in more oil, just for extra moisture.
Many pastured birds are butchered right before the holiday, so may be delivered or purchased raw. If it was frozen through when you bought it, the turkey will thaw within a few days in the fridge, approximately 24 hours for every five pounds of turkey. For quicker thawing, place the turkey in a cold water bath and change the water every 30 minutes until it’s thawed. To ensure the bird cooks evenly, allow it to come to room temperature before placing in the oven.
Pastured birds are usually leaner than factory farmed birds, so many worry that they will end up too dry. Factory birds have usually been injected with hydrogenated oils and salt water solution- or given steroids which plump up the muscles with water, so they steam cook from the inside out. If the bird has regular muscles, the timing may be different to come to safe temperature. To ensure it is done on time, heat the oven to 450°F to preheat and then drop the temperature to 350°F after putting the turkey into the oven. Plan for about 12 minutes per pound. The bird is done when an accurate thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh reads 165 degrees. Start checking when it should have 40 minutes left. A second test is to check for clear juices in the leg joint. If it is done a bit early, don’t worry- the longer it rests on the counter before serving, the more moist it will be.
When putting the turkey in the oven, if possible, put the legs to the back. The oven reads a specific temperature, but this is only where the thermometer is. The oven usually has a range of about 75 degrees, and is always much hotter towards the back. As the dark meat of the legs always takes longer, this can ensure even cooking throughout the meat. If you have other things in the oven, about halfway through cooking, move the turkey to the other side of the top rack, keeping the legs to the back. If it is alone, even better, just let it cook.
Plan to cook the stuffing separately, unless you absolutely can’t for traditions sake. By cooking the stuffing separately, using a couple extra tablespoons of water for moisture, you ensure that both it and the bird can cook properly, and further cut down on the turkey’s cooking time, meaning less opportunity to dry out. Rather than stuffing, I put aromatics like an onion, garlic, lemon and some fresh herbs in the cavity which perfumes the meat beautifully. Most WildFit Friendly stuffing, as it is an alternative and grain free recipe, cooks better on it’s own anyway.
That’s it! You are ready to cook a holiday turkey. The most important thing is to not take yourself too seriously, and enjoy the experience. Multitasking on a holiday meal, or worse- multi tasking while rushing- usually ends in disaster. Take time to concentrate on the main event, and ask others to bring the sides along. If that is not possible, try to prep over a couple days beforehand so you are not exhausted for the big day. Finally, take time to be grateful. Grateful to yourself for learning something new, to your local farmer who gave you extra tips and tricks to cooking the poultry, and the bird itself for its ultimate contribution to your feast.
24 HOUR POULTRY MARINADE
Prep Time: 10 + 30 mins
Cook Time: 0 min
Total Time: 24+ 45 mins
Serves: 1 large turkey or 2 chickens
1 cup olive oil
1/2 cup coconut aminos
4 lemons, juiced
1/4 cup dijon mustard
1/2 cup minced fresh sage
1/2 cup minced fresh oregano
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup minced fresh thyme
1 Tablespoon minced garlic, or to taste
1 Tablespoon paprika
3 Tablespoons of salt
- In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, coconut aminos, lemon juice, and mustard. Stir in the herbs and spices.
- Cover, and refrigerate for 30 minutes to allow flavors to meld.
- Place turkey in a 30 gallon plastic kitchen bag. Pour marinade over the bird. Grasp the bag a few inches above the poultry, and press air from the bag and seal it. Rotate bag to coat the bird with the marinade. Marinate in the refrigerator for 24 hours, repositioning the bag every 4 hours, or so.
- Remove poultry from bag before roasting, and transfer marinade to a saucepan.
- Allow turkey to come to room temperature before roasting.
- Boil marinade for a few minutes, then use to baste the turkey every 30 minutes, or so, while roasting if preferred.
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